With my son, I stood for the national anthem at a minor league baseball game. It was the day after Chief Justice Roberts declared Obamacare Constitutional. As we sang, hands over hearts, I was overcome with a feeling unlike anything I knew. I felt fraudulent.
I closed my welling eyes in shame. We, all of us singing of the Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave, were merely pretending. America seemed not so admirably free, and Americans seemed less than brave.
In New York City nanny Bloomberg is taking away large sodas. In California’s San Bernardino county lawmakers are seriously discussing seizing underwater mortgages through eminent domain and then returning the homes to their occupants, effectively legalizing theft from lenders and penalizing homeowners who did not overextend themselves. In the Southwest the American President is unilaterally deciding what laws he will enforce, and in Appalachia federal bureaucrats are descending on the populace to combat “mountain pride,” a malady, recognized only by big government, as occurring when poor people refuse to accept public assistance programs, choosing instead to live according to their conscience.
According to analysis from think tanks ranging from the Eleanor Roosevelt founded Freedom House to the conservative Heritage Foundation, America is not the freest nation in the world. Nor is America number two, or three, or fifth, or ninth. One website, freeexistence, allows users to rank their own criteria of freedom, and under no meaningful configuration could I get America in first place.
In the Index of Economic Freedom, America ranked tenth, behind countries from Canada and Ireland to Mauritius and Chile. The United States has fallen lower in each of the past five years.
All indicators are that we will continue to erode our freedoms. Despite thoroughly enjoying the snarky writing of Mark Steyn, I desperately want to disagree with him. Alas, I find no weak spots in his analytical projection of continued decline.
America is no longer the beacon of freedom. We have become only the second-freest nation in North America, and are in no position to set an example for aspiring or oppressed people around the world. America may not long be a Land of the Free because we have ceased to be a Home to the Brave. Thumbing noses at Benjamin Franklin, we have increasingly traded a little liberty for a little more comfort and security. Both the historically factual and legendary exceptionalism of America is fading fast.
Can we continue to sing the nations praises in good faith? Can we impart the blessings of liberty to our posterity without being liars and hypocrites? Where can a red-blooded Patriot find hope?
There are two truths. The first is that liberty is not embraced by all. It never was, and – for a variety of reasons – is not today. The framer’s vision, Hoover’s “rugged individualism,” Emerson’s “self-reliance” can be scary ideas. Yet there was not too long ago a moment when we tolerated and accepted the fearful while continuing to herald the bold, innovative, and dynamic. No more. We have become a nation of pragmatists, intent on making the “smart play” by taking advantage of the systems, benefits, and coddling that is available – and doing so without shame or remorse.
The second truth is thankfully more important. Our love of liberty and country was always, at its root, fealty to the American idea. While our land, homes, states, government, or whatever symbol we chose, represented the ideal, we could pledge our loyalty to the representations without a sense of dishonesty. Yet, our heart and minds ever belonged to the idea; the thing represented, not the thing itself.
To love, cherish, and defend America is not to love the government, or a political party, or a hyphenated group, or any subdivision of the whole. We put our faith in something larger. The idea of freedom is beyond ourselves. So long as we hold it as the beacon, we can recover the tangible liberties we are losing. So long as we do not let the idea die, its manifestation can be recovered.
Conversely, should we resign and accept that “this is as good as it gets” the flame of liberty will be extinguished. We must insist on singing of freedom and teaching the blessings of liberty. We cannot cower at the remorse of things lost but instead hold on to the shining example that we, as Americans, understand and revere more than the peoples of Ireland or Chile.
In a free society it is ever the risk that a portion of the population, legitimately empowered, will trade the freedoms of all for the benefit of a few or the comforts of some. Eliminating that risk would destroy the very liberties dearly held. The counter act is to defend the ideal, guard the principle, and struggle mightily to demonstrate the goodness of a free people.